For eclectics, the new year is generally an uplifting time. It’s an excuse to take stock of one’s life and reset the switch. Eclectics revel in change and new things, so a whole new year holds a lot of promise and potential energy. Many of us use the new year to resolve to make certain things better in our lives.
For over a decade, in addition to more serious initiatives, I’ve been setting at least one quirky New Year Goal for myself, often but not always fitness related. Although somewhat frivolous on the surface, most of these goals serve a broader function of teaching me something new or improving my overall health. I spend most of the year not doing anything about the goal, until I realize it’s crunch time, whereupon a quixotic series of events unfolds as I try to realize my goal. The result, in most cases, is that I succeed in reaching some semblance of my original goal, albeit in quarter-assed fashion.
Here are a few of my more memorable endeavors:
1999 – This may have been my very first quixotic resolution. The goal was to run up Boulder Canyon from Boulder to Nederland. I was a somewhat spry 27-year-old then and I didn’t see any reason I couldn’t just jog as far as I wanted. This is about a 16 mile route, with almost 3000 feet of elevation gain. The average Boulderite does this run a couple times a day, with a backpack full of rocks, but I’m not really a runner.
On about December 20, 1999, it dawned on me that I should probably start training for my goal. I happened to be on a cruise ship in the Caribbean with my extended family. In between hanging out with the family, beers, blackjack, and mousse-filled chocolate tulips, I was able to get a mile or so in on the top deck track. I had a few days to go when we arrived back in Colorado.
On December 31, my cousin Jacob (who had also been on the cruise) and I set out to do our run. We had revised the plan, opting instead to jog up Lefthand Canyon from the Greenbriar restaurant to Ward. Boulder Canyon was too busy, and the new route, while about the same distance, would actually add 1000 feet in elevation gain. About two miles in I remembered that my IT band would really tighten up when I was road jogging – we were moving along at the tortoise-like pace of 12-minute miles. By about mile ten, the IT band was screaming at me and I had to walk. Jacob, meanwhile, was like a little puppy, running up ahead and then running back to check on me (he peed a little bit when I scratched behind his ears). For the next six or so miles, we walked, with occasional short stretches of jogging. When we came around the corner and saw that first abandoned vehicle on the side of the road, we knew Ward was at hand – this could be the first time anybody’s felt such relief at arriving in Ward. Result: Mission (Kind Of) Accomplished
2000 – As a kid in Madison, Wisconsin, we lived near the Eagles Club, which had an old bowling alley. My dad would take us there occasionally. In high school I continued to bowl a few times a year – I never got very good, but I probably averaged in the 150s, with a high score in the 180s. After high school I bowled about once a year on average. In 2000, my goal was to bowl over 200.
I bowled a few times during the year (without coming close to a 200), but it wasn’t until I returned to Madison for the holidays that I got serious. A few days before Christmas, I went out with some friends and bowled a few games but couldn’t break 200. So after Christmas, I enlisted my brother Zac to join me and we drove out to the fancy new Bowl-A-Vard. I was putting strikes together and finishing spares, but I’d end up leaving a crucial pin standing in some of the middle frames. Five games in and I was getting a little discouraged, but I felt like I was still dialing it in. Zac, being a good sport, acquiesced to playing a sixth game. I didn’t put together a lot of strikes, but I think I only left one or two pins standing that game, to finish with a 208. Result: Success
(Zac bowled over 200 a few weeks later.)
2002 – What would you do if you were stuck in the cold in the wild without any matches? I would simply make a little bow and start my own fire.* In 2002, I decided it was important to learn this critical skill. In keeping with my usual procrastinatory schedule, I set out to accomplish my goal on December 31. Once again I was in Madison for the holidays, and once again I enlisted Zac to help me out (he already knew how to do this). With my wife reluctantly in tow, we found a hardware store that was still open and bought the necessary ingredients (I know, there generally aren’t hardware stores available when you’re lost in the wild).
It was cold outside, so we went down to Zac’s basement. I made a little bow with some string and a dowel, whittled a wispy pile of shavings, looped the string around another dowel, and used the bow to spin it back and forth on another piece of wood. Within minutes, voilà… well, nothing really, except a few puffs of smoke. Twenty minutes later, my wife migrated upstairs. Another fifteen minutes and Zac decided to head up, leaving me with a few words of encouragement. Sometime in the next hour or so I saw the light – literally, as a small flame burst forth from our little pile of shavings. I let it go long enough to smoke up the basement and probably alarm the neighbors, doused it, and walked triumphantly upstairs. As silly as my attempt at this goal was, there’s something viscerally enlightening about making fire. Result: Pseudosuccess
2013 – Somewhere in the last decade I may have gained a little more discipline. I had been kind of working out for a couple years, and had gone from one to two pull ups to over ten. In 2013, I resolved to do 20 pull ups. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be able to magically do 20 pull ups on December 31, so in addition to my irregular workout schedule, I began dieting and doing extra pull up sessions sometime in the fall. I figured that less weight around my belly would make it easier to do more pull ups, and I ended up dropping about 15 pounds in three months.
In the last couple weeks before the new year, I started working on max reps. Sixteen, then 17, then, I realized, it wasn’t going to happen. So, in keeping with tradition, I revised my goal to make it more accessible. I would now shoot for 20 chin ups, which are easier for me. On December 29, with considerable expenditure, I did 18-and-maybe-a-half chin ups. The cost was that I couldn’t attempt it again that day, and I decided to take the next day off, too, to give myself the best chance. On December 31 (again), I woke up in the morning, skipped breakfast (excess weight), stripped to my underwear (maybe I should’ve taken that off, too), and proceeded, with superhuman effort, to get 19 1/2 chin ups – I couldn’t even hold the bar at the end, try as I might. That was it, I had failed, but I immediately began equivocating – I had given it the old college try.
Then a New Year’s Eve miracle occurred. I had just settled down to a long winter’s nap, when inside my brain I felt a thunderous clap. So I sprang from my chair with a flash, and jumped on the pull up bar with a crash. Up and down I went, 20 times, and one more for good measure – 21 chin ups. Did I cheat a little by not fully extending on a few of those, and by kicking my knees up on the last five or so? Yes, yes I did. Result: Failure (but it felt pretty good)
Last year I had a pretty wimpy handstand goal that I sort of achieved (on December 31, of course), as well as a golf goal that I didn’t quite meet. In 2015, my fitness-y goals are to bench 225, get my golf handicap to 15, and, more vaguely, limit the amount of junk I ingest or imbibe (I know, these are kind of boring compared to some of my previous goals – maybe I should try to rip a license plate in half or pull a Boeing 747 with my teeth). Artistically, I plan to make a movie with Zac in Scotland, I have an illustrated book I want to finish and self-publish, and I’d like to be able to play the first part of Fur Elise on the keyboard with some semblance of competence (now this is a quixotic goal, since my musical ability is nil). Vocationally, I hope to increase sales for a couple of my businesses and start a new business with a couple friends. On the home front, I plan to dig out part of our basement and make it into a fitness area/mad science lab (video forthcoming), and I want to grow some good veggies. Acting locally, I want to do more exciting projects with my wife, kids, family, friends, and community. Thinking globally, I want to follow up on some work I’ve done looking at hunger and get more involved in climate change mitigation efforts.
I’ll give you a full report in a year. What are your 2015 goals?
*Actually I’d probably die of hypothermia in a Jack Londonesque comedy of errors.